Skin Care for Psoriasis

woman scratching psoriasis rash on backTreating psoriasis is tricky enough on its own, so how do you put together a skincare routine that won’t make it worse and that will help manage it? Are there skincare products that can help reduce psoriasis? We answer those questions and more in this must-read article for anyone struggling with this skin disorder.

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It is certainly no surprise to anyone with psoriasis that over-the-counter or “traditional” skincare products are not capable of completely clearing an outbreak—simply put, prescription treatments are the most effective. Still, the right skincare products can make a difference, and your skincare routine can play an important role in making sure your psoriasis doesn’t get worse. A great routine also will allow the treatments that do minimize outbreaks to work their best. In this article we detail some topical products that can help, and explain how to build a gentle skincare routine to soothe psoriasis-affected skin.

Consider Topical Retinoids and Salicylic Acid (BHA)

Topical retinoids (that is, various forms of vitamin A; the over-the-counter ingredient to look for is retinol) are helpful in managing psoriasis because of their ability to improve the way new skin cells are formed. They do this by way of cell communication, meaning they essentially connect with a receptor site on a misbehaving skin cell and “tell” it to act in a more normal and healthier manner. [1]

Retinol is the most common and most thoroughly researched topical retinoid in skincare, but there are other retinoids, including retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, and retinoyl linoleate. These are included in select skincare products, but the gold standard—retinol—is available in a wider range of products that are available at both drugstores and department stores.

Paula’s Choice offers retinol treatments in various strengths for use on the face and body. Generally speaking, there are no agreed-on guidelines for determining what strength or type of retinol treatment is best for psoriasis; so consider beginning with a lower strength and see how your skin responds.

Salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid [BHA]), when well formulated, is an extremely gentle exfoliant that can soften and help remove the layers of scaly, thickened psoriatic lesions. Removing these layers not only improves the appearance of your skin, but also allows other topical medications to better penetrate the skin. [2]

In addition, because of salicylic acid’s chemical relationship to aspirin (aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid), it has anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce the redness associated with psoriasis. Given how salicylic acid functions, a leave-on salicylic acid–based exfoliant (2% to 6% concentration) is considered a viable skincare treatment for psoriasis. From the Paula’s Choice line, consider SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, RESIST Weekly Retexturizing Foaming Treatment 4% BHA, and, for improving the appearance of psoriasis on the body, RESIST Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA.

Salicylic acid exfoliants can be used once or twice daily, and present minimal to no risk of side effects. Note, however, that those who are allergic to aspirin should not apply salicylic acid unless directed to do so by a physician.

Putting Together a Skincare Routine for Psoriasis

All of the basic skincare needs that apply to every skin type remain important for those with psoriasis, but there are special considerations and warnings that must be taken even more seriously. Overall, it’s vitally important that you:

  • Do not do anything to irritate your skin, as this will only make matters worse.
  • Avoid all the things we repeatedly warn against, such as harsh cleansers, abrasive scrubs, hot water, and products with irritating ingredients.
  • Stop using fragranced products, whether the scent is synthetic or natural. This will go a long way toward improving how your skin looks and feels.

The best skincare routines for those with psoriasis start with a gentle water-soluble cleanser, followed by a skin-soothing toner. A leave-on topical salicylic acid (BHA) exfoliant comes next. [3] During the day, follow with an anti-aging serum and then sunscreen (if approved by your dermatologist). At night, apply your serum and/moisturizer (with or without retinol).

All of these types of products should be available in a texture appropriate for your skin type and preferences. In terms of moisturizers, that means gels or liquids if you have oily skin; lotions if you have normal to combination skin; and creams or balms if you have dry to very dry skin.

If you are using topical medications, such as a vitamin D, cortisone, coal-tar, or an over-the-counter or prescription retinoid product, apply them before your sunscreen during the day and before your moisturizer at night. Note that if you are using a prescription retinoid product to combat the symptoms of psoriasis, you may not need an over-the-counter retinol product as well. However, you can apply both, either at the same time or alternately (for example, apply the over-the-counter retinol during the day and the prescription retinoid at night), but always pay close attention to how your skin responds. Retinoids are potent, and you never want to tip the scales in favor of irritation.

Let’s recap: If you have psoriasis, it’s still important to select skincare products based on your skin type—oily, combination, normal, or dry. Topical prescription treatments to control the symptoms of psoriasis can be worked into your routine, as directed by your doctor, and you shouldn’t experience any compatibility issues by adding such products to your usual skincare routine.

Especially important: Be very careful to use only products that are free of potential irritants. Paula’s Choice Skincare is one of the few truly fragrance-free, gentle skincare lines available that also has a wide range of products formulated to address the needs of every skin type and concern—all supported by published, scientific research about what works to have healthy, beautiful skin.

References Cited:

  1. Rossetti D, Kielmanowicz M, Vigodman S, Hu Y, Chen N, Nkengne AOT, Fischer D, Seiberg M, Lin C. A novel anti-ageing mechanism for retinol: induction of dermal elastin synthesis and elastin fibre formation. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2011;33(1):62–9.
  2. Jacobi A, Mayer A, Augustin M. Keratolytics and Emollients and Their Role in the Therapy of Psoriasis: a Systematic Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2015 Mar; 5(1): 1–18.
  3. Chan C, Van Voorhees A, Lebwohl M, Korman N, Young M, Bebo B J, Kalb R, Hsu S. Treatment of severe scalp psoriasis: from the Medical Board of the National Psoriasis Foundation.J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009 Jun;60(6):962-71.
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